“have you ever used sodium silicate?”
no, I haven’t, I think to myself, while doug sheridan describes it. well, it’s a main ingredient in glass production, he says, and it can actually be formed into a weak form glass (one that will dissolve into water) all on its own. and if you’ve ever glued something together, rubbed something with sandpaper, or walked on concrete, then you’ve probably used it, as well.
normally, sodium silicate would be too basic to mention in a description of glassblowing craft. but in this case, mr. sheridan tells me all about his sodium silicate because of where it comes from. doug is a glassblower at sunspots studios. sunspots is a small glass studio based in staunton, virginia, which makes the color bar for our gorgeous ‘horoscope’ color votive.
three years ago, mr. sheridan got a call from a large manufacturer of sodium silicate (who wishes to remain anonymous) with some good news: the manufacturer was creating around 10 tons of sodium silicate byproduct every year, and they wanted to give it all to him. 10 tons. that’s an incredible amount of glass for a small studio to be receiving for free. and during the decades prior, it had all been going straight to the landfill.
now all of that sodium silicate byproduct gets transformed into its most beautiful possible form: hand-blown glass. isn’t that a much better fate than the landfill? “it’s up-cycling,” says mr. sheridan, “which is even better than recycling.” it’s a great deal for sunspots, not just because it is free, but also because, “it makes great glass.” because of all the industrial applications of the sodium silicate, it must be extremely pure when manufactured industrially, and so the byproduct is higher-quality stuff than the raw material that goes into most glass.
and in the able hands of doug and his crew at sunspots studios, this glass is up-cycled into something truly gorgeous. they add a unique, proprietary blend of metal oxides (including iron, copper, and tin) to create a deep red color bar that they call “iron maiden.”
like the glassybaby votives that the color bar will eventually become, “iron maiden” is made by hand. it takes three days. first, all of the raw ingredients are mixed in a 2200-degree furnace, where they stay overnight. then the glass gradually cools down over the next 24 hours, while all of the air bubbles rise up and out of the glass. then the sunspots crew goes to work. it takes them a whole day to shape the molten glass into color bars.
these bars are shipped out to the glassybaby hot shops in madrona and berkeley, where our glassblowers will use them to create ‘horoscope,’ a color that evokes the shifting, swirling, cosmic phenomena of deep space. think supernovae, nebulae, and quasars.
if you’ve seen more than one of these ‘horoscope’ glassybaby, then you’ve noticed that no two are alike. it’s the most variable color in the glassybaby selection. and that makes sense, because its was made by hand. and it was made of sodium silicate that had been rescued from a terrible fate: to languish in a landfill for all eternity. no wonder every little bit of it wants to express its true colors.